Hours Worked – FLSA Minimum Wage and Overtime

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets forth federal minimum wage and overtime requirements. Although there are exceptions and exemptions to both minimum wage and overtime, most employers and employees are subject to those standards.* Thus, it is important that employers understand the rights and limitations imposed by this law so they may reduce liability exposure.

Central to determining an employer’s obligation under the FLSA is the concept of “hours worked.” “Hours worked” is the term used by the US Department of Labor, courts, and employment law practitioners to distinguish between the time for which an employer must pay a non-exempt employee and the time for which the non-exempt employee need not be paid. (For more information on employees who are exempt from minimum wage and overtime laws, visit our page on the FLSA). Although, the concept may appear simple on its face, in fact, it can become extremely complicated and extremely nuanced. Millions of hours and millions of dollars are spent each year by employers both large and small either attempting to make sure employees are properly compensated for all hours worked or defending claims by employees that they have not been.

There is little dispute that employees are engaging in hours worked when they perform their primary work duties, e.g., assembling the employer’s product, building a customer’s building, entering data on a computer, or answering customer phone calls. It is not usually central job duties, however, that raise the question. Instead, it is when employees engage in activities that are different from or ancillary to their primary job duties that question arise as to whether time spent should be counted as hours worked.

Time spent by employees that commonly creates questions of whether it should be counted as hours worked includes:

* States may have their own minimum wage and overtime laws. Employers are required to apply the federal or state minimum and overtime law that provides employees the greatest benefits. For more information on state minimum wage and overtime laws, visit our pages on minimum wage and overtime.